PJC In The News

Dental Care Death Still Haunts


UPDATE: Dental-Care Death Still Haunts 
Monday, January 14, 2008; B04 
More than a year has passed since Deamonte Driver was hospitalized after bacteria from an untreated dental abscess spread to his brain. 
He underwent two brain surgeries and weeks of treatment last January. But for lack of a dentist, he died Feb. 25. His mother, Alyce Driver, still has difficulty speaking about the loss of her 12-year-old, with his bright smile and his penchant for adopting stray animals. 
His four brothers miss him, too. 
"Words cannot express the pain we feel," Driver said. 
The death of the Prince George's County boy also haunts Laurie Norris, a lawyer and children's advocate with the nonprofit Baltimore-based Public Justice Center. Norris tried to help the Drivers find a dentist. But as the search proved to her, Medicaid dental care can be hard to find for a family such as the Drivers, who were struggling with homelessness, transportation problems, and erratic mail and telephone service. While she and Driver worked to get care for Deamonte's younger brother DaShawn, Deamonte's own abscessed tooth quietly festered, then flared into a fatal infection. 
"Every day since his death," Norris said, "I think of how we failed him and how we must not fail any more children." Over the past year, she has testified before a congressional subcommittee and served on a state panel, working to reform the Medicaid system, which entitles children to dental care but fails to provide it to about two-thirds of them. 
On Wednesday, Norris hopes to speak at a briefing held by the Maryland Senate Finance Committee. During this legislative session, legislators are considering budget proposals that would raise Medicaid reimbursement rates and fund dental clinics to help address the scarcity of dentists available to treat poor people. 
In the Driver family's case, Deamonte's brothers have managed to catch up on most of the dental care they need. DaShawn, now 11, got extensive treatment at the University of Maryland Dental School. 
But the family continues to struggle with homelessness. DaShawn and his mother are living at a Prince George's County shelter. The other boys are with relatives. Driver, who is working at a discount store for $6.70 an hour and helping her father with bricklaying jobs, has not been able to find a subsidized apartment, let alone afford one at the market rate. 
"I'm thankful for what I've got," she said quietly. 
Norris, who has watched Driver persevere, has started a fund in hopes of finding a safe and stable home for the family. "Our goal is to raise $5,000, enough to enable Ms. Driver to pay a security deposit and three months' rent on a small apartment in Prince George's County," she said. 
-- Mary Otto 
Money raised will be deposited into a special needs trust for Deamonte's brothers. Checks, made payable to Public Justice Center -- Driver Trust, can be mailed to the Public Justice Center, 1 N. Charles St., Suite 200, Baltimore, Md. 21201. Donations, which are not tax deductible, may also be made online at http://www.publicjustice.org. 
[Make sure to write "Driver Trust Fund" in the designation box for proper crediting.]

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